Much has been written about the importance of people trusting their leaders. Less attention is paid to the essential quality of trust in your direct reports (sometimes referred to somewhat disparagingly as “subordinates”). There is a sweet spot of trust, somewhere between not trusting them at all, to simply doling out tasks and washing your hands of the matter.
We want to believe that our direct reports (DRs) are trustworthy. Essential characteristics for trust are integrity, competence, transparency, reliability and commitment. When we see or even sense a waffling in any of these qualities on the part of a DR, trust is damaged.
Even when trust is high, you can’t delegate and walk away. You should verify progress:
At the point of delegation. Don’t assume anything, even if the person you’re delegating to has a proven track record of success. Make sure you align on impact, results, boundaries and mutual responsibilities. Include how and when updates on progress will be given.
At agreed-upon milestones. No news isn’t good news when it comes to a key assignment. If your DR doesn’t come to you, seek her out, reminding her of your delegation agreement.
If the DR requests time. There may be a hiccup you’re not aware of; be available for consultation and don’t shoot the messenger if the news is bad.
When changes will impact success. Get involved when plans need to be altered due to unexpected circumstances.
If you sense something is wrong. Your “spidey senses” are tingling. Maybe the DR’s demeanor has shifted or you have heard rumors that there’s a glitch. If you have a gut feeling that something’s amiss, follow up on it.
As soon as you realize that your delegation process was incomplete. Re-align with the DR when you realize you left out vital information the first time around.
If you find yourself verifying frequently, you’ll give the impression that you don’t trust the DR’s ability. Figure out why you can’t chill out and let the DR do his job. Are you a control freak? Is the project more fun than your own job? Do you really NOT trust this person, but don’t have the courage to say so? Face up to the real reason you keep checking in, and take steps to reclaim the “sweet spot” of trust and verify. Your direct report will grow more capable, and you can get back to the strategic responsibilities that need your attention.
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